Rockingham taxes to rise amid cuts

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BELLOWS FALLS — Rockingham town taxes will be going up about 1.5 cents, after the Rockingham Select Board made cuts in its proposed $6.2 million 2020 town budget. The new proposed tax rate will go from $1.08 to $1.095.

The board trimmed the proposed increase of the Rockingham development director's post, leaving the job currently filled by Gary Fox at 25 hours a week. Board members said they would revisit the issue next year, with the goal of increasing the job to full time, depending on Fox's progress on the job.

"I don't feel we can afford it," said Select Board member Doreen Aldrich.

Select Board member Gaetano Putignano said he thought Fox was doing good work, but that the town couldn't afford the full-time position.

"He's doing a great job," said Select Board member Stefan Golec.

Putignano wanted to eliminate the job of Public Works Director Everett Hammond, with Putignano saying the town wasn't getting the anticipated benefits from Hammond's return to the job after a multi-year absence. He said it boiled down to "needs and wants."

"I'm on the fence on this, I'll be honest," said Select Board member Peter Golec. "But my inclination is to stay with him," he said.

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Hammond has been on the job since July 2018. But Putignano was outvoted 4-1 on the public works director's position, although the other board members made clear they hoped to see more progress in the public works area. Putignano's main gripe centered on the sidewalk and paving project in downtown Bellows Falls, and the quality of the paving around manholes. Hammond, who came into the downtown project halfway through, was faulted by Putignano for the uneven pavement and bumps. The paving job was done by Bazin Brothers, with supervision by Hammond.

Putignano said that taxes and spending had gone up substantially in Rockingham in the past 10 years, and he said it wasn't apparent that the town was getting more benefits. The grand list of taxable property has remained relatively flat during that time.

According to a 2007-2019 comparison compiled and distributed by new Finance Director Shannon Burbela, spending had gone from $3 million to $5 million, and the tax rate had almost doubled, from 0.68 cents to a proposed $1.11. The Rockingham board had originally been looking at a 2.7 cent increase, with expenditures up 5.7 percent. Town Manager Wendy Harrison said the budget broke into 60 percent for highway costs, and 40 percent for general town expenses.

The board adopted a $6,272,363 spending plan, of which $5,035,306 will be raised by taxes. For a home with a $125,000 assessment, the increase will mean an additional $34.75 a year, Burbela said. With someone with a home assessed at $200,000, it will mean an increase of $55.60. Select Board Chairwoman Susan Hammond attended the final budget session by phone, since she is in Southeast Asia as part of her job. Select Board member Peter Golec ran the meeting.

The board, expressing frustration with the budget of the Rockingham Free Public Library, did not increase the proposed budget, which was submitted by the library trustees last fall. The library says it needs additional funding to cover both pension and health insurance costs, since two employees have opted for increased coverage, Burbela said. The library budget is voted on by separate article on the floor of town meeting. The currently proposed budget is set at $401,200.

Contact Susan Smallheer

at ssmallheer@reformer.com

or 802 556-2147.


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